Saturday, March 03, 2012

Mitt Romney dodges a bullet

But the narrowness of his victory in Michigan portends a long struggle ahead 

Mar 3rd 2012 | NOVI, MICHIGAN, COLUMBUS, OHIO, AND NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE | from the print edition

Jointly composed with Jon Fasman and Christopher Lockwood. I reported from Novi, Michigan.

ON FEBRUARY 28th a trickle of Democrats arrived to vote in Michigan’s Republican primary, as permitted under the state’s primary rules. They came to defeat the presumed Republican front-runner, Mr Romney. Democrats see him as the most dangerous opponent to Barack Obama, and relished the chance to promote Rick Santorum, a social conservative whom they think would be a lot easier to beat. In what became quite a nasty contest, with plenty of mudslinging all round, Mr Santorum encouraged the ruse.

Despite it, Mr Romney snagged a modest victory in Michigan, beating Mr Santorum by 41% to 38%, as well as romping home in Arizona, by 47% to 27%. A loss for Mr Romney in Michigan might well have been fatal. Not only did he grow up there, his father was a popular former governor. But Mr Romney also badly needed to demonstrate his appeal to the Midwestern voters who will be crucial in any general election. Scoring such a narrow victory means that he failed to do so very convincingly.

Michigan is a big and diverse place, with everything from the kind of rich suburbs that Mr Romney grew up in to grim, distressed industrial cities such as Flint, Pontiac and Detroit. Little wonder then that it is a vital swing state, with a useful 16 votes in the electoral college that actually chooses the president. On the face of it, Mr Romney’s stronger economic credentials might seem to commend him to voters looking for a turnaround for America. But matters are more complex in a state where the car companies are crucial—and where many voters believe that Mr Romney would have preferred their industry to go bankrupt than to get money from the government to help it survive.

Exit polls showed that Mr Romney’s Michigan voters were older, wealthier and better educated than Mr Santorum’s. In other words, when Mr Santorum called the president a “snob” for wanting to send everybody in America to college, he was making a naked, and rather successful, appeal to class resentment. [More...]